NTT and NARS claim mission-critical comms breakthrough at Narita International Airport

Comms and IT tech giant partners with radio services provider to interconnect 5G service with the wireless infrastructure at Tokyo’s main airport in a move designed to level up integrated mission-critical communications at international travel hubs around the globe

Due to their intrinsic nature, airport communications networks are fundamentally complex, seeing use of several radio systems with corresponding radio devices, making their use and maintenance a challenge, but NTT East and Nippon Airport Radio Services (NARS) have teamed to interconnect a managed local 5G service with Giga-Raku 5G and TETRA, the wireless communications infrastructure at Narita International Airport in Japan.

Enterprises and governments can flexibly develop local 5G networks – licensed 5G communications networks for buildings or premises, differing from nationwide networks operated by mobile phone service providers – within their respective compounds to meet local or industrial needs.

By integrating voice communications between 5G-enabled handsets equipped with a push-to-talk application and terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) devices in the airport’s ramp area, NTT said it was enabling airport staff to carry a single device instead of many. And with dedicated radio waves and closed networks, comms are not affected by mobile network failures or congestion.

The integrated voice communications environment in the airport ramp area between local 5G-enabled devices is equipped with mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) applications and TETRA devices.

NTT East and NARS plan to develop MCPTT use cases by making concrete proposals for expanding the scope of local 5G applications and upgrading the wireless communications environment for operations at airports, factories or warehouses, and other facilities with extensive real estate.

Over the past few years, local 5G has been considered in a variety of industrial fields in Japan. At Narita International Airport, a consortium including NTT East and NARS is studying the use of local 5G as a stable and secure wireless communications infrastructure for the realisation of a smart airport, including the implementation of multiple autonomous driving buses in the airport ramp area. The implementation has been made based on the uptick in autonomous driving in the airport ramp area.

TETRA is used in more than 80 airports globally, and is in service in five major airports, including Narita International Airport, as a ground-to-ground wireless communications infrastructure. It is used not only for daily operations such as ground handling and ramp control, but also for mission-critical communications in the case of emergency.

To smoothly deploy local 5G in airports, the two firms said it was essential to connect with airport radio systems, which are widely used at airports, with the realisation of interoperability between the two systems an important step. In addition, while some airport workers previously had to carry multiple communication devices, the interconnection is designed to make it possible to continue operations using only a smartphone in the local 5G area. In the future, it is expected to improve usability through multimedia communications by taking advantage of MCPTT applications.

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NARS operates TETRA and the WAVE MCPTT system developed by Motorola Solutions. WAVE has been integrated with TETRA, and the interconnection between local 5G and TETRA has been made using WAVE. It enables voice calls and text messaging through WAVE applications installed on smartphones via cellular networks and local 5G. By using WAVE as a communications application on a local 5G environment, built with Giga-Raku 5G at Narita, voice calls can be made between local 5G-enabled smartphones and TETRA terminals, as well as between such smartphones over a closed local 5G network.

WAVE and TETRA have been used as an experimental communications tool between staff and are said to have experienced high-quality and stable communications functionality. Because the systems consist of dedicated radio waves and closed networks, the partners said they are not affected by failures or congestion of cellular networks so high availability can be expected in emergency situations.

Looking to the future, NTT and NARS plan to scale deployment of 5G at other airports, where a modern 5G-capable push-to-talk solution is a long-awaited capability, along with developing new push-to-talk use cases in other industrial environments. They will also offer a pathway for digital transformation of airport operations by using WAVE’s diverse functions and interconnection with TETRA.

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